From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Oliver, Joel Peter, Jr., and Wilma

In January of 1939, Dr. Joel P. Oliver, Jr. (1903-1958) and a woman named Wilma, who was white, were arrested in Louisville, KY, for violating the Kentucky statute that prohibited interracial marriage. The couple may not have known that there was an anti-miscegenation law in Kentucky. The more they explained why they were in Kentucky, the more their story changed. Reacting to a reminder about the law, the couple told the police that they had not gotten married in Kentucky but had married in New Mexico two years earlier. Both Dr. Oliver and Wilma were taken into custody from the Negro hotel where they were guests.

Since the mid-1800s, Kentucky laws prohibited whites from marrying Negroes within the state [the statute was repealed in 1967]. The law did not apply to those who had married outside Kentucky. The couple explained that they were not from Kentucky and were just passing through the state: they were driving from Lubbock, TX, to Chicago, and had stopped to rest in Kentucky. Dr. Oliver, who practiced medicine in Texas, told authorities that he had just passed the Illinois medical examination and was moving to Chicago to establish his new practice. Nonetheless, both he and Wilma were put in jail, each under a $5,000 bond, with the threat there would be additional charges.

Louisville authorities contacted the Lubbock authorities for background information on the couple. It was found that they each owned the separate cars that they had driven separatedly to Kentucky. Dr. Oliver's car, however, bore a license plate that came from another car that he owned. When police searched the cars, they found weapons, drugs, and a large sum of money. It was also found that Wilma was not Dr. Oliver's wife [her last name was not printed in the newspaper articles].

Dr. Oliver was born in Texas and had practiced medicine in New Orleans before moving back to Texas with his actual wife, Frances Mouton Oliver, a beautician who was the youngest sister of Jelly Roll Morton. Dr. Oliver had a medical practice and a sanatorium in Lubbock, TX. His wife Frances (1900-1982) had owned a beauty parlor, and the couple lived at 2112 E. Avenue B, according to the 1936 Lubbock City Directory.

The news of the arrest of 35-year old Dr. Oliver and 27-year old Wilma had spread quickly in Louisville; Dr. Oliver knew a few people in the city. When the couple appeared in police court, the room was packed with Negro supporters. To the spectators' surprise, the couple was cleared of four misdemeanor counts: violating Kentucky's prohibition against interracial marriage; adultery; carrying concealed weapons; and disorderly conduct. There were no further questions about the money since Dr. Oliver was a respected physician who treated both Negroes and whites in Lubbock. The crowd cheered in response to all the good news. However, Dr. Oliver and Wilma remained under a $5,000 bond for violating the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914* and were to appear in court on February 7, 1939.
Dr. Oliver returned to his wife and home in Texas. He died in 1958, according to the Texas death index, and after his death, his wife Frances moved back to New Orleans.

For more see "Negro doctor and white wife held in Kentucky," The Coshocton Tribune, 1/27/1939, p. 12; "Negro doctor, companion held," Lubbock Morning Avalanche, 1/27/1939, p. 2; and "Negro doctor, white wife cleared of misdemeanors," The Coshocton Tribune, 1/31/1939, p. 1. For more on Francis Oliver see P. Hanley, "Jelly Roll Morton: an essay in genealogy."

*The "Harrison Anti-Narcotic Act" by C. E. Terry is available full-text online in the American Journal of Public Health, 1915 June 5 (6), p. 518.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Jefferson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Louisville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: The Coshocton tribune (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Lubbock morning avalanche (newspaper)
NKAA Source: American journal of public health (journal)

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Oliver, Joel Peter, Jr., and Wilma,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed March 20, 2023,

Last modified: 2020-09-14 17:19:37